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Hughes v. Hughes

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 16, 2014


Session Date October 21, 2014

Direct Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hickman County No. 11-CV-4368 Robbie T. Beal, Judge

Douglas Thompson Bates, IV, Centerville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Norman T. Hughes

Kenneth K. Crites, Centerville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Channin S. Hughes

Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.



I. Facts & Procedural History

Channin S. Hughes ("Mother") and Norman T. Hughes ("Father") were married in November 2008. Mother had two daughters from a prior relationship, and Mother and Father also had two daughters during their brief marriage – one born in April 2009 and another born in July 2010. Mother and Father separated in February 2011, and Mother filed a complaint for divorce in the chancery court of Hickman County. She sought to be named primary residential parent of their two children, who were both under the age of two. The parties informally attempted reconciliation, but the divorce case remained pending. In July 2011, Father moved to Montana for a lucrative job opportunity.

On August 19, 2011, Mother filed a petition for an order of protection against Father, alleging that he was placed in a mental facility in Montana on August 18 after he threatened to commit suicide. Mother claimed that she feared for her safety because Father had been released and was on his way to Tennessee, and he sent her a text message stating that it was all her fault. Thereafter, the parties agreed that Father would be permitted visitation with the children at his parents' home. Following a hearing, the chancery court entered an order of protection finding that Father "[d]id the things listed in the Petition." The court found credible evidence that Father had abused or threatened to abuse Mother and posed a threat to her. The order required Father to "stay away" from Mother and have a mental evaluation. However, pending further hearings, the order provided that the children would primarily reside with Father and have visits with Mother every other weekend. Father's mother was to meet Mother to exchange the children. The order prohibited the parties from exercising parenting time in the presence of members of the opposite sex.

Father subsequently filed a counter-complaint for divorce, alleging that Mother physically and verbally abused him during the marriage. He sought to be named primary residential parent of the parties' two young children. On October 25, 2011, the trial court held a hearing to consider a pendente lite parenting schedule. The court entered a written order on November 4, 2011, providing that Father would continue to serve as primary residential parent, and Mother would have parenting time every other weekend. The order stated that the order of protection would remain in effect, and neither parent was permitted to exercise parenting time around unrelated members of the opposite sex.

On February 6, 2012, the State of Tennessee filed a petition, on Father's behalf, to set Mother's child support obligation. The proceedings then became more contentious. On February 28, 2012, Mother filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and extraordinary relief, asking the court to immediately transfer custody of the children to her. As grounds for such relief, Mother claimed that Father failed to produce the children for her every other weekend visitation twice during the month of February and concealed the children from her. Mother also claimed that Father came within 100 feet of her at a fast food restaurant and threatened the life of her companion, Billy Gaddis. Mother alleged that Father was arrested for violating the order of protection and that a sheriff's deputy forcibly entered Father's home to apprehend him while serving the arrest warrant. She also claimed that Father threatened law enforcement officials. In short, she claimed that Father demonstrated erratic and dangerous behavior as well as mental instability that would justify transferring custody to her.

The trial court held a hearing on March 14, 2012, and heard testimony from several witnesses, including Mother, Father, two sheriff's deputies, and a caseworker from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS").[1] The record before us does not contain a transcript from the hearing, but the trial court's written order, entered April 17, 2012, found "evidence to support that the Court's previous orders have not been followed with regard to the minor children[.]" The court found "no evidence that there has been any harm to the welfare of the children; however [Father] has exercised poor judgment that could have resulted in harm to the minor children." Accordingly, the trial court immediately transferred temporary custody of the children to Mother pending the final divorce hearing. The court extended the order of protection. Father was allowed parenting time with the children every other weekend, but only at the home of his parents, who would monitor the visits. In addition, the order provided that the children could have no extended contact with unrelated members of the opposite sex, and it specifically stated that "the children shall not be placed in contact with Billy Gaddis."

The divorce trial was held on November 15, 2012.[2] By the time of trial, the children were ages two and three. The trial court heard testimony from Mother, Mother's mother, Father, a sheriff's deputy, and a private investigator. The sheriff's deputy testified that he went to Father's residence to serve an arrest warrant in February 2012, but Father refused to answer the door, so the officer tore down the door and forcibly entered. The two minor children were present at the home. The deputy testified that he had to forcibly arrest Father, who was irate because he was arrested in front of the children.

At the time of trial, Father was living near Nashville. He testified that he was the primary caregiver for the children during the marriage and mostly responsible for changing the children's clothes and diapers and feeding them. Father testified that Mother was always on the computer looking at social networking sites or playing games. Father testified that the children cry and throw fits when they have to return to Mother. He claimed that he should be named primary residential parent because of his ethics and morals and because he takes better care of the children. He claimed that Mother's family was highly unstable and often involved in criminal activity.

Father testified that he went to a mental health facility in the past because Mother's "excessive abusiveness" caused him to have low self-esteem. He conceded that he "needed some help at that particular time." Father testified that he was diagnosed with transient depression and treated with medication, but his doctor later determined he no longer needed it. Father denied that he was suicidal in Montana but admitted that he left a note with one of his co-workers and recorded a greeting on his voice mailbox that would cause a reasonable person to become concerned.

Father acknowledged that he withheld the children from Mother during the two weekends at issue in February 2012. He testified that the children were very ill with RSV during the first weekend, and the second weekend, he did not send them because one of the children stated that Mother's boyfriend, Mr. Gaddis, touched her inappropriately. Father took the child to a doctor, and the matter was investigated by DCS but deemed unfounded. Father also described the incident involving him and Mr. Gaddis at the fast food restaurant. He claimed Mr. Gaddis was in the parking lot yelling ...

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